The Industry’s Single-Barrel Bourbon Pioneer Elmer T. Lee Dies at Age 93
Kentucky bourbon legend Elmer T. Lee, the man behind the single-barrel bourbon that sparked the industry’s revival, has died at the age 93. Retired for the past 28 years, Mr. Lee continued to visit the distillery on a weekly basis to seek out bourbons for his own Elmer T. Lee single-barrel label.
“We have lost a wonderful friend today, and he will be missed terribly,” said Mark Brown, president and CEO of Sazerac, the parent company of Buffalo Trace.
Born in 1919, on a tobacco farm in Franklin County, Mr. Lee graduated from high school in 1936 and worked for a local shoe company until December 1941. He served as a radar bombardier on a B-29, flying missions against Japan throughout World War II until 1945. Discharged in 1946, he returned home to study engineering at the University of Kentucky, graduating in 1949. After graduation, Mr. Lee began working at the George T. Stagg Distillery in Frankfort as an engineer. By 1966, he was the plant superintendent, and was further promoted to plant manager in 1969.
He made his biggest contribution to bourbon in 1984, when he introduced Blanton’s, the world’s first single-barrel bourbon. It became a world-wide success and soon the rest of the bourbon industry began reinventing itself with premium distillations. He retired in 1985, becoming an ambassador for Buffalo Trace. Shortly thereafter, he was honored with his own signature single-barrel label. Mr. Lee was inducted into the Bourbon Hall of Fame in 2001.
So tonight, we’ll pour a tipple over one of our handcrafted whiskey stones and raise it to the man who gave us single-barrel bourbon. Rest in peace Elmer T. Lee.